Can Massage Help Your Headache?

“This project is such a headache!”

They’re so common that the term has become synonymous with an annoyance, but what are headaches, really? And can massage therapy really help?

Different types, different causes.

We all know a headache when we feel it. It’s a pain in the head. However, not all headaches are created equal.

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. Pain occurs on both sides of the head without other symptoms. The pain can range from very mild to severe.

Migraine headaches are often pulsing, and can be accompanied by nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, and hallucinations. Some people experience migraines only rarely, while other people experience them on an almost daily basis.

Cluster headaches are less common. Generally experienced as severe pain around one eye, they occur in clusters over a period of time. Long periods of no symptoms may follow.

Secondary headaches are not conditions themselves, but are symptoms of other conditions. These conditions can be as everyday as a sinus infection. Or, they can be more serious, like traumatic brain injury or meningitis. Secondary headaches can be managed, however, it’s important to focus on getting the appropriate medical treatment for the underlying condition.

Headaches and massage

The Good News: 

Tension headaches, the type of headaches people are most likely to experience, seem to respond well to massage therapy. Massage helps reduce pain in the moment. Regular massage therapy appears to increase the time between headaches for those who experience them on a chronic basis. This could be a result of helping to manage stress. It could also be underlying mechanical issues that result in headaches. There’s no solid science yet on precisely why massage helps, only that it does.

More Good News: 

It’s no surprise that people who experience regular headaches are also more likely to experience high levels of stress. Not to mention, depression and anxiety. Studies have found that massage can help people who live with chronic headaches, as well as stress and anxiety.

Some people with secondary headaches can also benefit from massage. People with fibromyalgia related headaches experience both pain and stress relief with regular massage therapy. More gentle massage may be needed during a flare-up, but can provide relief for both headaches and body aches.

The Bad News: 

Massage therapy is wonderful and often helpful, but it’s not a cure for headaches. Some people just need a bit of rest or a drink of water (dehydration is a surprisingly common headache cause). Other people continue to experience headaches all their lives. Unfortunately, migraines triggered by things like foods or hormonal changes probably won’t see an impact from massage.

The Worse News: 

There are some times when getting a massage for headaches isn’t just unhelpful, it’s actually dangerous. Most often, this is related to secondary headaches.

There are some times when getting a massage for headaches isn’t just unhelpful, it’s actually dangerous. Most often, this is related to secondary headaches.

The aches caused by a fever may make you feel like massage would be wonderful. However, it’s not a good idea to overtax a body already working hard to fight an infection. Then, there is the risk of spreading the illness to your massage therapist and others. Headaches resulting from a recent head, neck, or back injury could also be made worse by a well-meaning massage therapist.

It’s important to seek the opinion of a physician when the pain may be the result of illness or injury. Start by receiving appropriate care for the issue causing the headache. Along the way, you can ask them whether or not massage is a good idea. Safe is always better than sorry

Headaches can be a real, well… headache. But there’s help.

A change of environment may help. If you have a headache and have been hunched over a computer for hours, try a stretch. A quick walk outside or a brief nap can help with a headache caused by eye strain. If you haven’t eaten or drunk anything all day, do that. It’s not uncommon to get busy and distracted and forget basic self-care.

If it’s safe to take them, medications like ibuprofen or aspirin can be helpful in treating a headache. Sometimes caffeine helps. Strong or chronic headaches may require prescription medication.

And then there’s massage therapy, of course. It’s not a magical cure-all, but for many people, it really does help manage the pain and stress of headaches. Are you one of them? Schedule your next massage, and let’s find out together.

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